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The Louisville Journal on Douglas and Lincoln -- Opinion of the Home Organ of Henry Clay


September 7, 1858.

The Louisville Journal has received Douglas' Freeport speech, and to the Senator's new averment that slavery may be kept out of the Territories by the refusal of the local legislatures to pass police laws for its protection of the Constitution and the Supreme Court, thus replies:
Mr. Lincoln, though doubtless far from approving this answer, will probably deem it more satisfactory that Senator Douglas's Southern Democratic friends are likely to think it. We ask these gentlemen, plainly, what they do think of it. Is it good Southern doctrine? Is it good law? Is it statesmanlike? Is it even in conformity with that system of public ethics which obtains among nations tolerably civilized? Saying nothing of historic prestige -- spawn of Senator Douglas's own brain as it is -- is it comparable, in honesty, or dignity, or expediency or nay other quality which might palliate or redeem a grave error, to Mr. Lincoln's position on the same question? Most certainly it is not. A more silly, disgusting exhibition of ignorance and duplicity was never made by a man of respectable pretensions. According to Senator Douglas, the Territorial Legislatures though prohibited by the Constitution from abolishing slavery within their respective jurisdictions, may lawfully abstain from enforcing the rights of slaveholders, and so extinguish the institution by voluntary neglect. In other words, Senator Douglas contends that the Territorial Legislatures may lawfully evade the Constitution by deliberately omitting to protect the rights which it establishes. He holds that the people of the Territories may lawfully abolish slavery indirectly, through the Constitution forbids them to abolish or prohibit it directly. It is impossible to conceive of squatter sovereignty in a more compatible shape than this. It is the scurviest possible form of the scurviest of all possible heresies. A refinement, more over, is added to the enormity of the fact that the Dred Scott Decision, to which Senator Douglas constantly parades his allegiance expressly precludes the whole thing. The opinion of the Court in that case denies the right of the Territorial Legislatures to refuse protection to slavery as distinctly as it denies their right to abolish or prohibit it. "And if the Constitution," says the Court "recognizes the right of property of the master in a slave, and makes no distinction between that description of property and other property owned by a citizen no tribunal, acting under the authority of the United States whether LEGISLATIVE, Executive or Judicial has a right to draw such a distinction, or DENY to it the benefit of the provisions and guarantees which have been provided for the protection of private property against the encroachments of the Government." The doctrine binds as little warrant in the late famous opinion of the Supreme Court as in law or morals or the dictates of a fair and wise statesmanship. It has no basis either in reason or authority. It is utterly and astoundingly false. No friend to the constitutional rights of the South or to many public dealing can or will tolerate it for an instant. It is a most vile and miserable and unmitigable heresy. Senator Douglas in publicly espousing it; goes several lengths beyond the most intense and passionate Republican in the whole North. He rushes in where Mr. Lincoln and his colleagues score to tread.

Mr. Lincoln's position on this point has the merit of openness if not justness. Indeed, as compared with that of his adroit but short sighted and unscrupulous antagonist, it possesses merits considerably more substantial than simple frankness. While taking sound national ground on every other important point of the "vexed question," Mr. Lincoln avows his belief "in the right and duty of Congress to prohibit slavery in all the United States Territories." -- We consider this an error, involving, theoretically at least, very grievous injustice to the citizens of the Slaveholding States. It is undoubtedly a serious error, regarded in itself -- Yet every impartial mind must perceive and admit that it is the pink of truth and justice compared with the wretched doctrine announced by Senator Douglas. In the name of common sense and common fairness, if slavery is to be prohibited or abolished in the Territories by any legislative tribunal, let it be done by one in which the nation is represented, and not by one composed of the representatives of the first stragglers from some overburdened city or restless border State who happen to squat on the public domain. If slavery is to be prohibited in the Territories by legislation at all, let it be done by the people of the United States, and not by the first handful of nomadic settlers in the Territories themselves. If we must have any sovereignty in the case, apart from the Constitution, give us the sovereignty of the American people, not squatter sovereignty in its most detestable and unwarrantable shape. Senator Douglas, as we have seen, gives us the latter -- Mr. Lincoln the former. Between the two, no intelligent, discerning patriot aside from its virtually speculative cast, is infinitely less unfriendly to the constitutional rights and just interests of the South. When, furthermore, we reflect that the Supreme Court has pronounced this identical position unconstitutional, and would infallibly nullify and Congressional legislation in pursuance of it, the practical consequence of Mr. Lincoln's error vanishes into all but nothing. It becomes a harmless crotchet, a political dream. But if it were as vital as it is lifeless, it would be immeasurably less pernicious than the reckless and shameless heresy of Douglas. It would be difficult, in fact, to imagine a doctrine on the subject that would not be. Abolitionism itself as respects the Territories, has never, in its highest fury, assumed such radical ground as Douglas took in his Freeport speech. Garrison, with all his fanatical and demoniacal hatred of slavery, has never in his whole life uttered an opinion at once so insulting and injurious to the South. The force of unscrupulous Northern demagogism seems spent in this last expedient of the unscrupulous little demagogue of Illinois.

This is a Southern view of the matter at issue; but it is out-spoken, honest and significant of more to follow. The Journal concludes its lengthy article on the Illinois canvass as follows:
We can hardly be mistaken in thinking that this somewhat unexpected development will strike our political friends in Illinois as something more that significant. We shall be mistaken, if they do not consider it decisive, and promptly throw aside whatever imperfect, half-formed sympathies with Senator Douglas they may have hitherto entertained. Such sympathies, if they exist, or have existed, must now be curdled into sourest aversion and disgust.